For more than 80 years, researchers with the Harvard Study of Adult Development have followed participants and their descendants. The study began as a longitudinal study comparing Harvard University undergraduates to youth living in Boston’s inner city. Researchers followed participants, and now their descendants, for their entire lives.
They found that the single most important determinant of well-being and longevity is social fitness — a rich, deep and varied social life that includes acquaintances, deep friendships, lasting romantic relationships and supportive family connections. Since the study began, at least seven other longitudinal studies have looked at social fitness and arrived at similar conclusions. Social fitness is also an important predictor of income, career achievement, mental health, life satisfaction and more.
In spite of this data, people are notoriously bad at affective forecasting (i.e., predicting how something will make them feel). So we take our cues from the culture. And our culture often tells us that money, power and visible success will make us the happiest. Yet pursuing these things doesn’t seem to make people very happy, and it distracts them from the social relationships that lend life real meaning. The takeaway? The fact that you want something — or don’t want it — doesn’t necessarily reveal much about how it will make you feel.
To illustrate, in one experiment, researchers asked participants to talk to a stranger during their morning train or bus commute. Participants complained about the effort, but despite this negative initial outlook, researchers found that merely talking to a stranger improved people’s moods and commute experience.
Not only does this show that social relationships are important for well-being even when we’re in a hurry or disinterested, but it also suggests that even fleeting interactions offer value. So pause, slow down and cultivate a spirit of friendliness and warmth. Get to know the barista, the cashier, the mail carrier. Welcome them into your wider social circle, and work together to brighten one another’s days and lives.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve prioritized other things over friendships or told yourself that building a village can wait until after you’ve built your savings, your house or your career. Aging, too, can make it more difficult to sustain connections. People move away. They quit driving. Getting together becomes more difficult.
It’s never too late to build deep connections that can improve your life today and your health for the long term.
Living in a communal environment such as a senior living community makes building social connections effortless and provides the perfect environment for deepening the connections you have. Here’s what you need to know about why social fitness is the most important ingredient in the recipe for lasting well-being.
Social connections are integral to well-being, but they are just one piece of a large and complex puzzle.
Strong social relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. They can also help you focus on attaining other health goals. Not only do they inspire you to live better, but they can also make it easier to make good choices. After all, it’s easier to walk with a friend and enjoy a delicious meal with a neighbor.
Humans are social animals. While our living environments have changed over the last few centuries, our evolutionary history still means that living in a mutually supportive group feels most comfortable to us.
For thousands of years, isolation was deadly, making us vulnerable to predators, starvation and not being able to access help when we needed it. That’s why loneliness isn’t just upsetting. It can feel physically painful — even if you’re an introvert.
You probably already know that your relationships make you feel good. But building and sustaining lasting connections is about more than just recognizing their value. It can be tough to connect with others, especially as you grow older. Perhaps that’s why a quarter of adults over 65 are considered socially isolated, and many others report feeling lonely.
Getting older can be hard. Spouses pass away. Friends move away. Some people stop driving or need extra support to participate in the activities they once enjoyed.
Finding things to do can be challenging and expensive. We’ve all had the experience of endlessly texting back and forth with a friend, only to wait weeks or months to finally settle on a plan or agenda.
But people also get happier as they age — perhaps because they are better able to focus on what matters most.
Social skills are, first and foremost, skills. They require practice. If you’re shy, anxious or worried about what to say to others, you can get better and more confident in daily interactions, but you have to be willing to keep trying. It’s helpful to start small by giving your full attention to daily interactions or reaching out to a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Seize opportunities for interaction. Chat with the Starbucks barista or your Uber driver, and ask them about themselves.
Give as much as you get. People want to feel loved and valued. That means asking them about themselves, being a good listener, and taking the initiative to reach out.
Make socialization easier by joining a ready-made community. Clubs and activities that meet regularly eliminate the element of planning, ensuring you can just show up and enjoy yourself.
Live among people you like. Neighborhoods full of friendly people make it easier to enjoy daily connections.
Step outside of your comfort zone. Talk to people you don’t know well or who seem to share little in common with you. Variety is the spice of life.
Senior living communities are ideal places to build new relationships because new friends and meaningful activities are always just outside your door. When you live near the people you care about, spontaneous outings and impromptu conversations become easier, enriching your life with more frequent and meaningful social interaction. And because you don’t have to worry about meal preparation, home maintenance and other time wasters, you have more time to discover and commit to the activities and people you love most.
Most people in Life Plan Communities live independently in cottages or apartment homes. They wake up each day in a well-designed and efficient home in a community that boasts an all-inclusive lifestyle. Enjoy multiple dining venues, exceptional maintenance that ensures your home is always beautiful, and a myriad of social, cultural and lifelong learning opportunities. Living among warm and welcoming neighbors makes it easier to connect with others around you, and it reduces the risk of becoming socially isolated. You’ll still be independent but with access to services to help you stay that way in an environment that prioritizes friendship, community and a vibrant lifestyle.